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Symposium 2012

Proposal - What role do Parliaments play in any open government inititiative

The Challenge

The provision of effective and efficient public services—such as health care, education and criminal justice—is a key task for government. In recent years, the financial crisis, digital technolo ...

The provision of effective and efficient public services—such as health care, education and criminal justice—is a key task for government. In recent years, the financial crisis, digital technologies and other big trends have complicated efforts in these areas and intensified calls for large-scale reform.

Transparency and access to information are key conditions for successful social accountability. The exercise of social accountability must start by correcting the information asymmetries that keep citizens disengaged from government institutions and processes. Reliable, comprehensive and timely information is necessary to empower citizens to engage with government, as well as to hold it accountable for its actions. Information quality and accessibility are key determinant of the success of social accountability mechanisms.

Latin American countries have made significant advances in both transparency and access to information in the past years. Access to information legislation has been passed in many countries in the region. Civil society, donors and other stakeholders have supported the development and implementation of public policies and programs aimed at promoting transparency in different areas. However, most of these efforts have been focused on the executive branch, while legislative and judicial transparency and access to information have received less attention.

Access to parliamentary information and legislative transparency are fundamental to make representatives and parties accountable to their electorate, to make lawmaking responsive to citizens’ demands and needs, as well as to hold the government accountable by enabling societal oversight over congress’ performance of its check-and-balance functions.

Furthermore, enhancing legislative transparency and access to information could certainly contribute to change legislators’ negative public image. It will also provide civil society with additional tools and resources to work together with government institutions and to hold them accountable. While several CSOs in the region have started monitoring parliaments –through legislative observatories, producing and disseminating legislative information, etc. –, these efforts have mostly remained country-focused and there has been no coordinated interaction or systematic exchanges between the organizations involved.

That is why Parliaments must be included in any open government initiative. In the Legislative branch, lot´s of information is being generated everyday (legislative and administrative) that has to be made accessible to community. Parliaments have a lot to contribute: first, by opening information held within it´s institution, mostly information regarding it´s members, it´s budget, subsidies given, etc.; and second, by opening the legislative process itself, by including more voices in the debates taking place before any bill is passed. But also, Parliaments can make two other big contributions towards an open government initiative:

1. By passing anti-corruption and transparency bills that will give a legal structure to any open government initiative

2. By controlling the Judiciary and the Executive branches like most national constitutions establish

However, Parliaments have a long way to go in this sense. That is why several Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations (PMO´s) have been working in these sense. For example, a Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency was formed in 2010. This Network amongst other things created a Legislative Transaparency Barometer designed to meassure 4 aspects of the parliamentary work: 1. citizen participation; 2. policy framework; 3. budget and administrative capacity; 4. legislative administration. This tool was already put in practice in 2011-2012 and will be implemented again next year.

This network also participates of OpeningParliament.org, a forum intended to help connect the world's civic organizations engaged in monitoring, supporting and opening up their countries' parliaments and legislative institutions. Parliamentary monitoring organizations are working to create strong, open and accountable parliaments, through enhancing citizen participation in the legislative process and bringing parliaments closer to the people they represent.

Concerning the Open Government Partnership, on March 20th, representatives from 40 civil society organizations from Latin America participated in a workshop that sought to exchange ideas, experiences and concerns about the OGP processes underway in the region. Eight regional networks from 14 countries that work on transparency and accountability issues attended this event held in Mexico City. The main main concerns of the organizations were about the  lack of information concerning the OGP´s objectives, mechanisms, expected results and possible outcomes; the construction of action plans that could lead to cooptation mechanisms that validate incomplete and superfluous government efforts or legitimize governments that do not recognize the importance of transparency and accountability; fear that OGP will not be able to consolidate itself on the long term due to different local political and social contexts and the lack of analysis of the costs, timetables and legal mechanisms related to the implementation of action plans.

Despite their concerns, CSOs stressed that there are numerous opportunities linked to OGP. The Open Government Partnership can lead to the creation of new spaces for structured dialogue between government and civil society. Moreover, it could impact positively on the strengthening of the discussion and exchange of international experiences. These are some of the recommendations that were a product of the discussions:

  1. Establish a common ground for action plans so they are somewhat coherent and their results can be comparable.
  2. Establish a communication strategy directed towards countries and CSOs that are part of OGP and to civil society in general.
  3. Include in the elaboration of the action plans an exhaustive analysis of their related costs and legal implications.
  4. Continue to promote opportunities for meetings, dialogues and exchange of ideas between the civil society organizations that are part of OGP.


Finally, participants summarized the indispensable characteristics that an action plan must have. In their view, this document must contain concrete, doable, timely proposals and not just a list of values and subjective wishes. Moreover, plans of action must be complemented with a dissemination strategy that allows society to make plans their own and put pressure on the government to fulfill their commitments. According to Latin American CSOs an action plan must be: clear; concrete; comparable; doable; measurable; inclusive; and must contain priorities, a budget and show alignment with international standards.

The road towards an open government is long, has to take in account all public branches and levels and include social actors. Only by creating open government initiatives, a more participative, active and strong citizenship will be built.

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